John Candy's Sugar Pop|
Rita Kempley, Washington Post Staff Writer
"Uncle Buck," a John Hughes comedy on child-rearing, is
the mild-mannered next-door neighbor of the recent release
"Parenthood." Here's more proof that fathering is not only
trendy, but also a barrel o' laughs that turns big babies
into grown men.
Speaking of barrels, John Candy has the title role of Buck
Russell, the kooky uncle forced to care for his two nieces
and a nephew during a family crisis. A la "Three Men and a
Baby," Uncle Buck will ultimately find that he loves children
and wants to get married and move to the suburbs as soon as
humanly possible, there nigh the Chemlawn to procreate
happily ever after.
"Uncle Buck" essentially is a star vehicle without star
power. Candy, great in tandem with Steve Martin in Hughes's
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles," has yet to carry a picture
by his lonesome. With his cineramic girth and cheery grin, he
does fill up the screen with a hulking jolliness. But you
keep thinking Pritikin ... Nutri-System ... Candy is more
than sympathetic, and we're worried about him having a
stand-up heart attack.
He's a congenial comedian, and one of his shortcomings is
that we know he won't do or say anything to make us really
uncomfortable, nothing kinky or radical, as a Murphy or a
Dangerfield might. As Buck, he evolves from a slovenly single
to a bachelor father, withstanding the trials of a high-tech
kitchen and the sullen growing pains of the family's teenager
(Jean Kelly in a promising movie debut as 15-year-old Tia).
When the laundry center befuddles him, Buck dries his wash in
the microwave while contending with the man-hungry divorcee
next door. Hoo, boy.
Tia, who hates everybody but her steady, Bug (Jay Underwood),
is his most pressing problem. Certain that Bug only wants one
thing from Tia, he fights the high school Lothario for her
honor. In "Parenthood," the boy marries his pregnant teenage
wife. Here, he is gagged with gaffer's tape, stuffed in a
trunk and beaten for staining Tia's honor. It's Uncle
The little kids -- 8-year-old Miles (Macaulay Culkin) and
6-year-old Maizy (Gaby Hoffman) -- are button-cute and
immediate allies of Buck, who is lovable even when
threatening Bug with a power drill. Then we see Buck, the
kids and the dog nestled in Maizy's small bed -- a mother
panda and her cubs couldn't be more endearing. He does look
bearish when he dresses down Maizy's vice principal for
calling her "a bad egg." Distracted by a large mole on the
schoolmarm's chin, he announces, "Hello, I'm Buck Melanoma"
in the movie's one truly hilarious scene. We are otherwise
only mildly amused with Candy's antics, and in some ways more
intrigued with the grousing Tia, a sulky, lovely girl who,
like the middle-aged Buck, is feeling growing pains. Hughes,
the master of young adult fiction, seems more engaged by the
pimply menace of a teen clique in Zorro drag, haughty rebels
who are automatically more interesting than the cotton candy
people of the central story.
The pop cycle continues as one more filmmaker takes on the
paterfamiliarization of 20th-century man. "Uncle Buck" is
competent comedy, a bit simplistic, a bit stale, no gremlins,
no gushiness, no surprises. A Hughes movie offers the kind of
reliability you expect from major household appliances or a
good set of radials.
Uncle Buck, at area theaters, is rated PG.